Due to a Rise in Hunger Across the State, Oregon Food Banks Are Being Forced to Make Cuts

Oregon Food Banks: There is no letup in sight for the need for food, according to local and regional food managers. One of these managers even reported that the food pantry she oversees has had to reduce the amount of food they distribute due to rising prices and surging demand.

Executive Director of The Giving Plate in Central Oregon, Ranae Staley, said, “We would need donations to increase in kind with the demand.” The Giving Plate has reduced the amount of food they provide each client from 30 pounds per person per month to 19 pounds per client twice per month as of the beginning of November. We need to make a change so that we can stop having to turn people away.

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If food banks are an indicator of economic hardship, then-current levels of need are nearly on par with those seen during the first year of the pandemic, when widespread business closures due to the spread of COVID resulted in vast layoffs and a complete collapse of the national economy.

It is expected that 1.5 million people will have visited food banks and pantries in Oregon this year, according to Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan. This is only a minor decrease from the 1.7 million visitors in 2020.

Oregon Food Banks Are Being Forced to Make Cuts

The hunger problem “simply skyrocketed during the pandemic,” Morgan, who has been working to solve it for 26 years, said. There is nothing in my records that suggest we have ever reached the million mark.

The need for food aid decreased to 1.2 million in 2021. Researchers and food bank officials have attributed the decline to the wide variety of federal relief programs implemented during the epidemic. These programs include the increased child tax credit, stimulus funds, universal school meals, and the expansion of rental and food assistance programs.

Midway through 2022, several of those initiatives were concluded, even as broad-based price increases continued unabated. More people were forced to rely on food banks to ensure their families had enough to eat.

A record number of vehicles, over 70, arrived at the Keizer Community Food Bank for the morning delivery of food earlier this month, workers reported.

The green automobile driven by Marisol Montes was one of them. She had never been there before, but after two weeks without a job, when the family’s funds were really low, it was time for her to check it out.

It was “an eye-opener” to see how prevalent her condition was that day when so many people had come with her to pick up food.

A little farther up the line, Sandy (who did not want to give her last name) explained that she and her husband’s fixed-income family had become untenable due to inflation and the fact that her mother had moved in with them.

It was a tight retirement,” she added. We didn’t anticipate it being quite this close.

The impact of persistent inflation on the food bank system this year has been twofold.

As a result of increased demand, many food banks have had to stock up on supplies. While wholesale prices tend to be more consistent than what consumers see in stores, NGOs are finding that their donations don’t go as far as they formerly did.

The CEO of the Oregon Food Bank, Morgan, indicated that the organization had spent almost $600,000 on food supplies in the months leading up to the outbreak. This year’s increase brings the total to $10 million.

That amount of expenditure is “absolutely unsustainable” in the long run, Morgan added, despite being made feasible by an influx of state and federal emergency funding.

She argued that decreasing food bank usage would reduce costs. She eventually concluded, “There’s no more juice in that lemon,” despite the Oregon Food Bank’s efforts to strengthen ties with local growers and increase donations.

Most of the food that ends up in pantries like the Keizer Community Food Bank comes from the purchases and storage facilities run by her business.

In addition, the local operations supply their shelves with a combination of wholesale purchases and donations from the neighborhood.

Oregon Food Banks Are Being Forced to Make Cuts
Oregon Food Banks Are Being Forced to Make Cuts

According to Staley, the Oregon Food Bank supplies between twenty and thirty percent of the food for Central Oregon’s largest food pantry, The Giving Plate. Grants from charitable organizations account for roughly 25% of revenue. According to her, the rest comes from monetary and food donations from the local community.

Pantry traffic at The Giving Plate is up 60% from last year. Staley noted that while local donations increased throughout the pandemic, they were still unable to meet the rising needs.

Staley added that she decided to cut back on food distribution in 2022 because she is unsure if demand will decrease in the coming months. Because of the drop in size, she explained, each person is getting enough food for around 15 days instead of 24. Each patron is allowed two visits each month.

Staley said that the Oregon Food Bank’s regional distribution site, from which The Giving Plate receives food, does not always have sufficient supplies of the commodities the pantry need. The Giving Plate’s Bend location is now undergoing renovations, which has severely hampered the organization’s ability to store food.

The safety net has grown, yet there are still gaps.

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and 2021, it created a sense of urgency among state and federal officials.

The Oregon Food Bank spent more than ever on food this year, and the organization has the legislature to thank for that. The legislature allocated $26 million to the Oregon Food Bank over two years to help with food purchases, as well as the costs of warehousing and distributing the food to other pantries. Included in that sum is $12 million from the American Rescue Plan.

The nonprofit also received $800,000 from the federal government to oversee the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which distributes meal boxes to senior citizens in 12 counties across Oregon.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program in Oregon is supported by $20 million in federal money and provides food to those with incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold through pantries, food banks, and congregate meal places. The Oregon Food Bank is also in charge of that service.

“The state of Oregon (has been) a major supporter and has been providing monies to enable us to purchase at rates we’ve never been able to afford before,” Morgan said.

Enhanced federal aid is still being provided. Oregon Department of Human Services spokesman Jake Sunderland noted that SNAP benefits have been boosted by the federal government by around 45% since 2020.

However, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., reports that when federal and state public health crises end, some benefits will be reduced.

Many of the policies that helped people maintain their stability and not need food stamps have ended. For instance, the Biden administration’s celebrated 2021 policy of expanding the child tax credit as a means of combating child poverty was set to expire in 2022.

Only the states of California and Maine have decided to permanently support universal school meals beyond the 2021-2022 school year.

The future of food banks is dubious, according to their administrators, unless continual actions are taken to lower the demand for food aid.

“You may think of the food bank system as kind of a last resort for families experiencing hunger,” said Rick Guapo, executive director of the Marion-Polk Food Share, the regional food bank that supplies sites like the Keizer Community Food Bank.

“Poverty, which affects hunger, is impacted by everything from the minimum wage to the cost of housing to the cost of health care,” he said.

Morgan stated that in Oregon, her group and the Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon are drafting legislation that will be introduced in the next session to establish a state-run program that will run concurrently with SNAP but would be available to some individuals who are not eligible for the federal program, such as recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

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In 2023, lawmakers will create a brand new spending plan. Morgan said that a longer session would provide more time to sort out the kinks in their proposed measure, such as conducting a cost analysis.

There needs to be political support for such a complex policy, she said.

Morgan stated that she wants to disagree with the notion that success may be defined as a return to the levels of hunger seen before the epidemic when approximately 800,000 people used food banks.

“No, that was never OK,” she declared. The fact that one in five of us cannot meet our basic requirements and must choose between paying the rent or buying food, or buying medicine for a loved one, is fundamentally not OK.

My hope was that our shared pandemic experience will facilitate the growth of a community of people who share this perspective.

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